They Might Be Giants have arrived. Actually, they arrived more than a decade ago, and they just keep on arriving with every subsequent release. In the eight years since John Henry
, the album on which TMBG evolved from performance art geek band on the fringe to full-fledged "musicians", their audience and influence have grown exponentially. The Spine
blends their traditional off-kilter humor with their ever-fuller "legit band" sound -- and as such, I fully expect it to be their greatest commercial success to date, though I'll admit it leaves me wistful for their salad days, when they achieved the same sense of childish wonder with more ingenuity and less, um, money, at their disposal.
The Johns (Linnell and Flansburgh) are firing on all cylinders here, wrapping their suitably obscure and sometimes ethereal humor in the most capable songwriting of their careers. Every track sounds finished and re-finished, fuller than anything else in their admittedly prolific oeuvre. Sometimes TMBG don't even sound like TMBG, affecting a distinctly middle-aged wisdom on "Memo to Human Resources" and "The World Before Later On". However, their unmistakably offbeat tone carries through the album, evident in the postmodern psychedelic wordfuckery of "Wearing a Raincoat", the stubborn adolescence of "Thunderbird" and the melancholy (and catchy) paranoia of "Bastard Wants to Hit Me". The musicianship here is also top-notch, easily among the best production values I've heard all year. Longtime fans and newbies alike should enjoy The Spine's intricacies and insular humor, though I wonder what it might be like to hear a soon-to-be-classic like "Experimental Film" and not have it remind me of the glory days of Flood...